Arts preview of 2018: Jim Gilchrist on the year ahead in folk & jazz

Ali Affleck and the Copper Cats PIC: Steven Scott Taylor
Ali Affleck and the Copper Cats PIC: Steven Scott Taylor
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As with all the arts, the Scottish jazz and folk scenes approached 2018 with considerable uncertainty as to future public funding, making forward-planning provisional, to say the least, although the 21.2 per cent increase in Creative Scotland’s discretionary grant in aid budget announced recently may alleviate some concerns. However, Glasgow’s Celtic Connections shows little sign of stringency as it celebrates its 25th birthday, with some 300 events across the city between 18 January and 4 February. The opening show features artists who appeared in the original event plus others who have since played what is now the largest winter music festival anywhere.

Beyond that behemoth, Edinburgh’s fifth TradFest, opening on 29 April, will celebrate Scotland’s Year of Young People with a “Passing It On” programme to inspire the next generation, with a wealth of other music, dance and storytelling events across the capital finishing on 6 May with a Battle of the Folk Bands.

TradFest’s hub, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, will host jazz singer Ali Affleck and the Copper Cats celebrating female blues pioneers in “The Preaching Divas” on 22 February. It also sees the final Renewing the Tradition: Scotland Sings event (3 February), featuring new songs written in traditional style.

As Karine Polwart’s beguiling Wind Resistance takes the stage at Perth (17-22 April), Mairi Campbell, whose one-woman show Pulse met with acclaim, is working on another, Auld Lang Syne, to premiere at the Fringe. Also this summer, Stornoway’s HebCelt (18-21 July) brings Deacon Blue to the big blue tent.

Expect new albums from Celtic-Nordic fiddle supergroup String Sisters, Gaelic singer Maeve Mackinnon, Norwegian-based Scots fiddler Sarah-Jane Summers, folk-rockers Skerryvore and singer-songwriter Rab Noakes, among others, while Greentrax issues a compilation of key singers of the early folk revival, in association with artist Alexander Moffat’s fine new painting Scottish Voices.

Regarding jazz, these uncertain times mean that advance festival information is sparse. Fife’s February festival is resting this year, although Aberdeen’s expands from five to ten days, 8-18 March. The Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary on 13-22 July while Glasgow’s 32nd festival runs from 20-24 June.

More intimate venues keep active. Edinburgh’s multi-award-winning Jazz Bar breenges into the new year with a busy programme including, on 5 January, the formidable trio of reedsman John Burgess, pianist Brian Kellock and drummer Tom Gordon playing classic jazz (and recording mid-January). Burgess and Kellock return on 20 January with bassist Ed Kelly, trumpeter Jamie Brownfield and drummer Jack Cotteril.

Also in Edinburgh, Whighams hosts the perennial Swing 2018 plus Kellock on 28 January, Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year, pianist Fraser Urquhart, on 18 February and, on 11 March, SNJO trumpeter Tom MacNiven, fronting youngsters from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Edinburgh’s industrious Douglas Robertson continues his roots and jazz house concerts, while his “Soundhouse at The Traverse” recommences on 15 January with the Nuala Kennedy Band.

A new jazz series at Glasgow’s Merchants House kicks off with saxophonist Paul Towndrow’s “Charlie Parker with Strings” project on 11 February, while fellow saxophonist Tommy Smith, playing solo, launches another at St James Scottish Episcopal Church, Leith, on 10 February, with subsequent concerts featuring Brian Molley (10 March) and New Focus (14 April).

Smith leads his Embodying the Light quartet at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall on 28 January and Perth Theatre on 19 March. Meanwhile his SNJO on 23-25 February brings its transformative energy to classical showpieces Peter and the Wolf and Carnival of the Animals, as arranged by Smith and guest pianist Makoto Ozone, with the Animals text adapted by Liz Lochhead and narrated by Tam Dean Burn.

Arbroath’s Hospitalfield has the aforementioned Burgess trio on 13 January, Ali Affleck, 24 February, and the Euan Stevenson Trio joined by the up-and-coming Luca Manning and Georgia Cecile on 24 March.

Meanwhile Glasgow’s 78 café-bar celebrates its tenth year with the spring release of an album by its house trio of pianist Tom Gibbs, bassist Euan Burton and drummer Stu Brown plus guests. Brown, with keyboardist Paul Harrison in their electronic duo Herschel 36, will also release their atmospheric live score for the silent German space movie Wunder Der Schöpfung.

Brown is also recording with Raymond MacDonald, Una McGlone and Jer Reid in the improvising quartet Drawn to Water, while also due for release is the debut from Harrison’s Sugarwork ensemble with Brown, Graeme Stephen and Phil Bancroft, embracing improvisation, electronics and video.

Financially, the coming year may still have its uncertainties, but there is clearly no short-changing in terms of musical creativity.